The crisis unfolding within the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) is reaching a critical phase, and a deep split is now imminent. The Spanish group of the CWI, Izquierda Revolucionaria, which only joined the CWI in 2017, has already split away and what remains of the Mexican and Venezuelan groups have followed suit. The Portuguese group has also left. To help readers understand what is happening, we take this opportunity to publish two opposition documents from 1991 and 1992, when a heated dispute took place within the Militant Tendency in Britain over the question of the internal regime.
Back then, a large part of the membership could not see the full extent of how far the internal regime had become an unhealthy one. What is happening now should help to clarify that the 1991 opposition was right in its criticisms.
The conflict eventually led to breaking point. The “Majority”, no longer able to tolerate any form of internal debate, decided to expel the Opposition, starting with Ted Grant, the founder of the Tendency. This act put the final seal on the degeneration of the old Militant. From a healthy, vibrant Marxist organisation, it had been transformed into a bureaucratic, sectarian and undemocratic outfit.
The documents here provided were suppressed at the time and not distributed to the membership. They provide a Marxist analysis of the degeneration of the Militant, its regime, and the rise of bureaucratic centralism, a key feature of the current crisis within the CWI. They are a clear analysis of the clique that developed at the top of the Militant organisation and the Zinovievite methods they used to deal with opponents.
When the 1991-92 Opposition, headed by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, was expelled, there was no right of appeal as we were bureaucratically deemed to have “placed ourselves outside the organisation”. The Taaffe organisation, since then, has used this method on several occasions to rid itself of opponents.
These documents therefore provide a coherent understanding of the present conflict unfolding within the ranks of the CWI, which is based on prestige politics and bureaucratic methods. The methods being used today are the same that were used back in 1991-92.
The clique around Peter Taaffe, who is General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales and who leads a minority within the leadership of the CWI, is about to expel the majority and declare themselves the “majority”. The author of Alice in Wonderland could not have made this up.
The first document we are publishing is called “In Defence of Internal Democracy”, which could only be circulated clandestinely within the Militant organisation at the time, such was the fear of the clique around Peter Taaffe. This unofficial action was vehemently condemned and as many copies of the document as possible were collected in and destroyed. The second is the first part of a document entitled “The Case Against Bureaucratic Centralism”, written just before the Opposition was expelled and therefore never circulated (click the links to skip to either document).
In the conclusion, the latter document states: “In the struggle of ideas against the apparatus, it is ideas which inevitably win, in the long run. We remain as confident of our ideas as when we started building this tendency, decades ago. What we did then we can do again.”
Both documents were written by Alan Woods.
In Defence of Internal Democracy
The following was originally intended to be a personal letter to comrade John Bulaitis, the London Regional Secretary, in response to a letter I received from him a few days after the outbreak of the present crisis.
Unfortunately, after having started my reply, the comrade concerned took it upon himself to launch an all-out campaign against comrade Ted Grant and myself, which has been carried to all corners of the London organisation, in flagrant contradiction to the recommendations of the Regional Secretaries meeting which both he and I attended.
The fact is that the entire weight of the full-time apparatus in London has been mobilised for the sake of presenting the membership with an entirely one-sided, biased and distorted version of our position.
As an individual member, I cannot hope to compete with this. I lack the time and resources to run around the branches and District Committees answering the avalanche of slander and distortions which has been launched against myself and Ted.
It is therefore with extreme reluctance that I feel compelled to put my position to the membership in a written form, in the hope of putting the record straight, clearing the air and laying the basis for an honest, democratic and comradely discussion of the issues involved.
Alan Woods, London, May 17th 1991
Letter from John Bulaitis to Alan Woods, May 8th 1991
I will try and reach you later on today. However, I felt I should let you know in writing the views I have formulated over the last couple of days on the “crisis”.
Firstly, as you are aware and I think is common knowledge amongst a wide layer of comrades, I have expressed criticisms and differences over the running of the centre, the "commandism" and impatience often shown, as well as the relationship between the Executive Committee (EC) and Central Committee (CC) and the need for more information and therefore accountability within the organisation.
However, after thinking on the issues posed at present, I can only draw the conclusion that the differences that have arisen on the International Secretariat (IS) are about something else entirely.
What is primary and what is secondary here? I have been asking myself. And what is the political basis behind differences which as yet are only on the organisational and personal plane?
I think the answer certainly to the second question is found by examining the trend represented by the comrades you mention as supporting you. Without naming names and detailing the points, it is evident that all are united by one thing in common; that is personal grievances against the leadership of Peter Taaffe.
Some, of course not all, have gone as far as to use these grievances to drift into abandonment or perhaps semi abandonment of the struggle.
You, of course, know the following quote. “The person who defines his attitude to the party by the individual fillips that he gets on the nose is a poor revolutionary. It is necessary ... to fight against every individual mistake ... injustice, etc. But it is necessary to assess these ‘injustices’ and ‘mistakes’ not by themselves but in connection with the general development of the party.” And further on: “Each real revolutionist who notes down the blunders of the party regime should first of all say 'we must bring in a dozen new workers’”, etc.
You see, I think what is primary now, especially in Britain, is a struggle within the organisation to turn to the workers and youth that we could get in this period, building on the authority we've gained through the Poll Tax struggle, etc., i.e. a struggle to turn to more open and bold work amongst the class. A faction fight that will be perceived by our comrades, especially our youth, as a personal feud can only poison the atmosphere and paralyse the organisation.
I understand questions are being raised on Thursday at the EC. I do not think it too late for you to reconsider waging a battle on these questions. I think by seeking some compromise, even if this means biting your lip, you would be doing a great service to the future of the organisation.
As I said I will try and speak to you later, or possibly see you. I thought it too early to knock.
Letter from Alan Woods to John Bulaitis, London, May 12th 1991
Thank you for your letter. It is a pity that you felt unable to come and see me yourself, to allow me the possibility of commenting on the points you raise. I have been increasingly surprised at the number of comrades who now also feel unable to talk to me, at least to acquaint themselves with my position at first hand. Many of them, moreover, have no such reservations when commenting on ideas which I am alleged to defend.
At our earlier meeting you agreed wholeheartedly with the points I raised about the existence of an unhealthy and undemocratic regime at the centre of our organisation. Indeed, you re-iterate (although in a far more guarded form) some of the criticisms you earlier expressed to me.
I must confess to some surprise at your change of heart. However, I understand that, as a full-timer and a CC member, you find yourself in a difficult position. You are doubtless aware of the threat to remove from their positions comrades who have raised questions about the workings of the leadership. Indeed, I understand that you are now making the same threats yourself.
The fact remains that you are now in the business of defending a regime which, on your own admission, is indefensible. Furthermore, you are using the full-time apparatus of the London organisation to attack, denigrate and attempt to silence anyone who tries to criticise the regime.
I thought the position you defended last week at the national regional secretaries’ meeting was, at all costs, to prevent the discussion of differences in the IS from reaching the rank-and-file. However, that has not prevented you from organising closed faction meetings of "leading comrades" (read, full-timers, in the main) at which an entirely false and one-sided interpretation of the differences was put forward, with the intention of stirring up feelings against myself and Ted.
As a defender of democracy within the organisation, do you not think it would have been better to have invited Ted or myself to put our views forward and let the comrades make up their own minds? Evidently you do not have much faith in your own arguments, or in the intelligence of the comrades you deal with.
Of course, you start off with a number of advantages.
Firstly, the membership has been taken completely by surprise by this discussion. They are shocked and stunned, and don't know what is going on.
The prevailing atmosphere of confusion gives a chance for unscrupulous elements to spread the most irresponsible and outrageous rumours. A distorted, one-sided and untruthful version of events is being systematically fed to selected sections of the membership. Unfortunately, this dirty work is being carried out in the main by full-timers, who ought to be the first ones to defend the rights of the members to receive full and unbiased information.
The main lie put in circulation by the local rumour-machine which emanates from your office is that the present differences in the International Secretariat are of a purely "personal" character.
Comrade Ted Grant has spent the last 50 years building the organisation. I have done the same for the last 30 years. Yet it is alleged that we would be prepared to "wreck" the work of decades for trivial personal reasons. What a contemptible slander!
Instead of arranging a democratic debate, where both sides of the argument could be put, it is obvious that you prefer to perpetuate the present unhealthy atmosphere of confusion and rumour-mongering, which is undoubtedly doing real harm to the organisation.
Let's face facts. You do not want the real differences to be explained to the members, because you do not trust the members to decide.
You are taking advantage of the loyalty of the members to the leadership in order to abuse that loyalty. This is unpardonable.
You ask where are the political differences, is the question of an undemocratic and irresponsible party regime not a political difference? Where were the "political differences" in the Russian party in 1903? Then, too, it was "only" an organisational question, but that was sufficient to begin the split between Bolshevism and Menshevism. In fact, in the history of the movement, important differences usually surface at first as organisational questions of an apparently trivial character. It is embarrassing to repeat these ABC points at this level of the organisation. But there you are.
For the record, I repeat here the principal accusations which Ted and myself are making: 1) that there exists a clique at the top level of the organisation, 2) that this clique, operating outside the formal structures of the tendency, has usurped the functions of the democratically elected bodies (in this case, the International Secretariat) and 3) that enormous damage has been done by the Zinovievist methods pursued by this clique, which consists in a) "cronyism" – the advancement of certain individuals on the grounds of clique loyalty, b) the shielding of these individuals from criticism and the concealment of abuses and c) the systematic elimination of any independent minded, critical or "dissident" comrade who stands in the way of the clique and its operations.
I do not expect you to agree to all this – although you readily accepted it before you were persuaded to back down.
But by what right do you seek to deny me the possibility of speaking out on these questions?
You ask about "political" differences. If one quarter of these affirmations were to be true, would that not be a most serious political problem – one that would vitally affect each and every aspect of our work in Britain and internationally? And would we not be duty-bound to expose this phenomenon and combat it with every means at our disposal?
You will say (now, at any rate) that these allegations have not been proved, that you reject them.
Fair enough. But why do you seek to deny me the right to state the arguments to the membership? Why do you seek to prevent our case being heard? I repeat: because you have no faith whatsoever in the rank-and-file. You want everything to be hushed up, kept as the privileged preserve of a handful of full-timers and friends "in the know".
Is this the way you think the organisation should be run – divided between the people who sell papers and do the work, and the "leading comrades" who alone are entitled to take decisions and be in possession of the facts (at least some of them)?
Is this discussion "opportune"?
The gist of your objection is that the present discussion will be "inopportune" and will damage the work.
This I can understand. Many honest comrades will be concerned because they fear the effects on our work. They reason as follows: we have been through a difficult patch, but we have scored great successes in the Poll Tax and Liverpool – things are beginning to improve. It is understandable, after the tremendous work done by members in building the organisation, that comrades should think: why open a discussion on these other questions now? It will be a diversion, etc.
Unfortunately, there can never be a good time for raising sharply-posed differences in the organisation.
If things were going badly, that would be the objection. Likewise if things are going well. The Stalinist and reformist bureaucrats have always used these arguments against the Trotskyists, basing themselves on the honest desire of the workers for unity, to muzzle the opposition and silence criticism.
But this organisation is neither reformist nor Stalinist. We have other traditions, and will not allow ourselves to be silenced by demagogic arguments.
"But this will wreck the organisation, and set us back ten years", some comrades argue, thereby revealing not so much concern for the organisation, but a gross lack of faith in it.
Our organisation is not so weak and immature that it cannot stand an open debate on the functioning of the leading bodies – if that were so, it would be a sad comment on all of us. But we firmly believe that it is not the case.
This argument is merely a device to prevent the membership from discussing the way in which the leaders function. And that is quite intolerable.
In recent years, unfortunately, there has been a marked turn in the direction of "commandism" from the centre. These bad methods – which Trotsky would have condemned in the strongest terms – have been duplicated by some full-timers in the regions. The London office is a good (that is to say, bad) example of this.
You see, when "ordinary" members make mistakes, it is OK for them to be taken up in the sharpest terms. But the mistakes of the leaders are a taboo subject which the rank-and-file are not supposed to even think about.
The EC does not give account of itself to the CC, nor does the IS to the International Executive Committee (IEC). It is taken for granted that "the leading comrades know best".
No-one doubts the enormous accumulated moral and political authority of the leadership of our organisation, built up over decades. The loyalty of the membership is based precisely on this.
However, loyalty must work in two directions. There is the loyalty of the rank-and-file to the leadership. But there is also the loyalty of the leadership to the rank-and-file.
The fact that Ted and I have raised some serious allegations in relation to the functioning of the centre will come as a shock to most comrades, although not to those who, like yourself, are well aware of the problem but, for whatever reason, prefer to keep silent about it.
For my part, I consider that any comrade who has a serious criticism of the way in which the organisation is working not only has the right to raise it, but is duty-bound to do so.
You say, in effect, that Ted and myself, having serious differences, should forget about them, keep them to ourselves, do nothing about it "bite our lip", in other words shut up. To speak frankly, that is an immoral proposition to put to a Marxist. We reject it with the contempt it deserves.
Incidentally, where does this terrific fear (verging on panic) of criticism and discussion come from? Does it not suggest that you have something to hide?
In the past, comrades were not afraid to raise criticisms and differences in our organisation. Now, it seems, any attempt to make criticisms (except on trivial matters) is regarded as a disloyal action.
At this very moment, full-timers and CC members are being required to show their "loyalty" – not to the organisation but to the leading group. "Loyalty" is shown, not by encouraging a healthy debate, but by baying and shouting louder than the rest against comrades who dare to raise criticisms. Such behaviour is entirely alien to the clean and democratic traditions of our movement. It is a living proof of just how far we have gone down this road.
It is frankly impermissible that pressure should be exerted on two members of the leadership (or anyone else) to compel them to recant their views, before the membership, and its elected representatives, have had the chance even to hear them. This is a blatant attempt to silence opposition. That is the meaning of your smug statement that it is "not too late for (me) to reconsider waging a battle on these questions".
At the moment, the only "battle" being waged is a disgraceful one-sided war of virtually the entire apparatus of the national and London organisations against two people – Ted and myself. All kinds of disgusting slander is being put about by you, and those who work for you. Yesterday Ted was supposed to be "senile", today you are apparently concerned about my mental health! And these are the weapons with which you carry on an internal discussion! Can you really recognise our organisation in all this? I confess that I cannot.
Rest assured, that no amount of slander and pressure will get us to do what you want. The day that these methods are seen to succeed would be the death-knell of everything we ever stood for. We would be no better than the Stalinists and the sects. And that is not going to happen – at least, not if we can help it.
Unlike you, I have a lot of faith in this organisation, and the healthy, democratic instincts of the members, especially the workers. The weapon of slander will turn against its authors. People will want to find out for themselves what is going on. Truth will prevail.
The other day somebody put the following argument to me as "proof” of the error of my ways: You see, we have just won a historic victory over the Poll Tax. We just had a great success in Liverpool. How could these things be possible if what you say about the regime is true?
The Stalinists and reformists have had many big successes in the past, and have led infinitely more mass movements than ourselves. Does that mean that they have correct policies and a healthy internal regime? Such an argument is fit for nursery school children, and not very bright ones.
Our tendency has scored outstanding successes: the Poll Tax and Liverpool, the movement of three million against the Gulf War in Spain, etc. This is a source of justified pride, but it does not acquit us of the necessity to examine the conduct of our leaders, to scrutinise their actions, to criticise and correct them, and call them to account.
Another thing. Despite our successes, we are still at the very early beginning of the development of a real mass organisation, even in Britain. While rejoicing in our successes, it would be utterly irresponsible and very dangerous to exaggerate our forces at this stage, or encourage comrades to believe that we represent more than we really do. That would have calamitous effects in the future.
This is not the place to deal with the "new turn". Suffice it to say that there can be no organisational panaceas for the solving of the problems of party-building, which, at bottom, are of a political character.
The "turn" is an important question, which ought to be thoroughly discussed and debated at all levels of the organisation. Are you aware of the fact that the discussion on this issue took precisely ten minutes of the time of the British EC? Since you are highly critical of the "procedure" allegedly adopted by Ted and myself in raising our differences, can I ask what you think of this procedure for deciding on a vital issue which will fundamentally affect our work in Britain in the next period?
Don't you think it important that the membership should be given time to digest these proposals and consider all points of view. The opponents of the "turn" may be 100 percent wrong, but it is necessary for the leadership to listen carefully to their views in order to avoid possible mistakes in practice. I understand that comrades who raised objections at the recent London aggregate were given a "battering" and were subject to ridicule. Such things would have been unthinkable in our organisation in the past. Why do we tolerate them now?
Maybe part of the problem is the fact that many younger comrades have only recently entered the organisation, and have never known any different internal regime to the present one.
Older, experienced comrades have dropped out in large numbers in the past period. There is no doubt that this was largely due to an unfavourable objective situation, the prolonged economic boom, the complex situation arising from the crisis of Stalinism and the unprecedented ideological counter-offensive of the bourgeois.
However, I am increasingly drawn to the conclusion that the objective situation was not the sole reason for our difficulties. In such a period, the behaviour of the leadership is a thousand times more decisive than when we are going forward.
I do not question for a moment the turn towards mass activities over the Poll Tax. It was necessary to turn outwards to avoid dangerous introversion and passivity. Without this activity, our losses would undoubtedly have been greater.
But that is only half of the problem. In a difficult period, the need for political clarity is absolutely crucial. Yet precisely in this period the decision was taken to close down the educational department at the national centre. Why?
It is evident that the question of theory, of the ideological arming of the movement, has been quietly relegated by the leading group. It has been replaced by "activism", which in turn is closely linked to the disease of commandism and administrative bullying. The fact that Ted and myself are now accused of being "mere theoreticians" is a striking indication of this phenomenon.
The serious problems facing our organisation cannot be solved by organisational and administrative means, or even in and of itself, by the "new turn". We need to take stock of the entire evolution of the tendency in recent years to correct the undoubted exaggerations and one-sidedness which has crept in. The prior condition is an open, comradely and frank discussion of the shortcomings of the leading bodies.
You, and others, continually harp on about "procedure" and "the way these things have been raised". Yet you did not hesitate to carry these questions into the heart of the London organisation, opening up an all-out factional struggle, before the International Secretariat even had the chance to meet to discuss the issues.
By your actions you demonstrate the truth of what Ted and myself have maintained all along: this struggle is not about petty, personal questions but about fundamental issues. So don't ever repeat the hypocritical arguments about "procedure". Your aim is quite clear: to attempt to gag us and tie our hands behind our backs, while you proceed to mobilise all the tendency's resources to silence us. You will not succeed. When the membership realise what is happening, they will call you to order and demand to know the facts.
You say that the main reason that you have made your peace with the regime is that you are unhappy about some of the comrades that are supporting Ted and myself.
That cannot be serious. Does the fact that any individual whatsoever supports what we are saying make the slightest difference to the substance of the argument?
In your own words, we must distinguish between what is primary and what is secondary. For us, what is primary is the struggle against an unhealthy regime, to return the democratic control of our organisation to the hands of the membership. Personal appraisals of individual comrades who support this demand may or may not be of interest, but can in no way affect the justness of our cause or the correctness of our ideas.
Since you do not see fit to name the comrades to whom you take such exception, I can only guess at the meaning of your words. I cannot presume to take responsibility for the ideas or past actions of every single person who supports our stand. They are all adults and quite capable of speaking for themselves. But I will say just one thing.
Anyone who now defends the rights of Ted and myself against the apparatus knows that he or she faces nothing but persecution and slander. They have nothing to gain and much to lose.
You mention people with "grievances" who have drifted into "semi-abandonment of the struggle". There are, indeed, many comrades with "grievances", some of them unreasonable, which I would not support or condone, but others the product of precisely the unhealthy regime which exists in our midst. Many people have unfortunately fallen into inactivity because they were acutely dissatisfied with the way the organisation was being run, and saw no chance of changing things.
The active base of the tendency, in Britain and internationally, has shrunk. We face objective difficulties. The comrades desperately need a clear political orientation to find their way through the maze.
I spoke to an activist in one of the London branches recently, and the picture I got was not reassuring. It consisted of a relatively small number of comrades, coming under heavy pressure from the full-timers to realise targets which the members did not fully understand or accept.
The complaints of the members were answered with accusations of "conservatism”. The general tone from the top was one of "drum banging" and triumphalism, with pressure being applied instead of patiently convincing and encouraging. Political education came low down on the list of priorities, and consisted mainly of "contemporary" issues, with hardly any attention given to the classics of Marxism. Fly-posting and paper drives were given a much higher profile than consistent work in the trade unions.
I know that the full-timers in London (and in general) are dedicated, hard-working comrades. I do not blame them for this situation, the origins of which must be looked for elsewhere.
The dangers for the organisation implicit in this state of affairs is self-evident, and I do not wish to elaborate on them at this stage.
You quote to me a couple of extracts from Trotsky's writings in relation to the faction-fight in the American SWP about "individual fillips on the nose". But Trotsky would have been horrified that any organisation which spoke in his name should consider bullying and "commandism" (your own word) as acceptable conduct in relation to the rank-and-file. But that, unfortunately, has been the case in our ranks for some time now.
The rotten fruits of this trend can be seen at the present time, when the entire apparatus is being mobilised for war against two comrades for the "crime" of speaking their mind.
Your quote from In Defence of Marxism has, of course, been dragged in for a purpose. You seek to draw an entirely false amalgam between the Abern-Schachtman group in the SWP and Ted and me.
The analogy is absurd, and so is your reasoning. Trotsky supported Cannon politically against the Opposition, but he never condoned Cannon's organisational methods. Furthermore, you should also consider how the SWP ended up under Cannon and his successors.
The SWP in its day also scored important successes, like the Minneapolis strike. While Trotsky was still alive, it remained a more-or-less healthy Marxist party. But that did not stop the SWP from degenerating into a neo-Stalinist sect with a bureaucratic internal regime.
Every rank-and-file comrade knows that, in theory, criticism and differences are welcome. In recent times, however, the practice has been different. There has been a noticeable drift towards a bullying style of leadership. Those who insist on raising criticism are frequently subjected to a merciless "battering". What is worse, full-timers are heard to brag about this kind of thing, defending themselves with the notion that "if you can't take punishment, you shouldn't be a member".
I suppose, in general, this assertion is true. For quite some years, I had to work under the Franco dictatorship in Spain, where punishment, not only of a verbal character, was always a possibility.
However, the fact that full-timers in a Marxist organisation (not a Stalinist party or a sect) can consider permissible to brow beat the members, particularly those who have different ideas, is something utterly repugnant and profoundly alien to a genuine Trotskyist organisation. The present campaign against Ted and myself is quite consistent with this style of "leadership".
Since you are interested in quotes, let me give you a more appropriate one from The New Course, which bears far more resemblance to the present situation. Trotsky refers to the evils of “apparatus cliquism, bureaucratic smugness, and complete disdain for the mood, the thoughts, and the needs of the party. Out of bureaucratic inertia it rejected, from the very beginning, and with an antagonistic violence, the initial attempts to put on the agenda the question of the critical revision of the internal party regime.”
The question of the internal party regime, far from being a trivial one, was regarded by Trotsky as a fundamental issue. And so it is.
We are no longer a small and insignificant organisation. The tendency has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, thanks mainly to a correct policy, orientation and tactics. Simultaneously, the full-time apparatus has grown, as is correct and necessary. It consists of tested, honest and self-sacrificing comrades, who desire to act in the interests of the working class and socialism.
But do not imagine that this dedication alone is sufficient to prevent bureaucratic tendencies, and even political degeneration, under certain circumstances in the future. Do not think that our undoubted successes over the Poll Tax and Liverpool, in and of themselves, can guarantee the future.
It is also necessary to attend to the political and theoretical development of the cadres, otherwise they will become merely activists and committee-men and women. And it is also necessary to continually check the internal regime, to root out the slightest manifestations of bureaucratism, commandism, bullying and disloyalty to the rank-and-file.
The leadership of our organisation, nationally and internationally has built up a colossal political and moral authority over decades. The members know this and are inclined to trust the leaders and display almost unlimited loyalty to them.
This has, unfortunately, given rise to certain tendencies which are anything but healthy. I do not mean to suggest that there is a "bureaucratic degeneration" in our organisation (as some have attempted to attribute to Ted and me). But the manifestations of certain bureaucratic traits: cliquishness, arrogance, commandism, administrative bullying, have undoubtedly crept in, and must be checked by the membership, if we do not want things to take a far more serious turn in the future. That is the bottom line of the position defended by Ted and myself.
If anyone wanted proof of these assertions, let them look at the furious campaign being waged by the apparatus in order to prevent us from raising before the membership the question of the regime.
Incidentally, I regard this as far more disturbing phenomenon than any of the criticisms which Ted and I raised at the outset of the discussion. It is a serious warning of what we can expect in the future if the question of the regime is not put under the scrutiny of the membership without delay.
Finally, a word to those who will bemoan the evil effects of a "split" among the leaders (incidentally, Ted and I have repeated a hundred times that there is absolutely no question of us splitting).
At the 1903 Congress of the RSDLP, a split took place between Lenin and Plekhanov on the one side and Martov and the minority on the other over an apparently trivial issue. The split took everyone by surprise. The party workers in Russia were horrified, and indignantly demanded that the leaders drop their differences over a "storm in a teacup" (Stalin) and unite.
In his book One Step Forward Two Steps Back, Lenin writes:
"I cannot help recalling in this connection a conversation I happened to have at the congress with one of the 'Centre' delegates. 'How oppressive the atmosphere is at our congress!', he had complained. 'This bitter fighting, this agitation one against the other, this biting controversy, this uncomradely attitude...' ‘What a splendid thing our congress is!' I replied. 'A free and open struggle. Opinions have been stated. The shades have been brought out. The groups have taken shape. Hands have been raised. A decision has been taken. A stage has been passed. Forward! That's the stuff for me! That's life! That's not like the endless word-chopping of intellectuals which terminates not because the question has been settled, but because they are too tired to talk anymore...' The comrade of the 'Centre' had looked at me with a puzzled expression and shrugged his shoulders. We were speaking in different tongues."
And Krupskaya commented: "Here in this quotation we have the whole of Ilyich".
None of us wanted or expected the present struggle. But once it had broken out, it is entirely unworthy to require Marxists to hide or renounce views which they hold strongly. We on the contrary, say: serious issues are at stake here; let the comrades be allowed to speak their mind, and let the membership decide who is right, and who is wrong.
For the rest, we pledge ourselves to continue to work together with comrades with different opinions to build the movement, as we have done for decades. There is absolutely no reason why this discussion should cause chaos and paralysis, on the condition that it is handled in the best democratic traditions of our movement. It will cause some problems, but, at the end of the day, if properly handled, it can only lead to a strengthening of the organisation at all levels, preparing us to face the decisive tests which lie ahead.
With Comradely Greetings,
P.S. Ted has read this through and made some amendments. He endorses the views expressed and this reply should therefore be taken as a joint statement of our views.
Against bureaucratic centralism
“Representatives of the majority, despite the silence of the Opposition, began a vicious slander campaign against it, presenting the party with monstrously distorted versions of the views and proposals of the Opposition. This more and more one-sided discussion has been and is being conducted only to prepare the party for even more unhealthy organisational measures. Never before have the methods of intimidation, terrorising, smearing, and expulsion been used so unrestrainedly as now. The most responsible assignments are made exclusively from the point of view of factional selection... The Stalin group wants to finish matters off organisationally as quickly as possible.”
Leon Trotsky, October 1926.
“...the bloc continued to exist and its adherents did not stop their underhand work against the Party. They went on banding together their anti-Leninist party, started an illegal printing press, collected membership dues from their supporters and circulated their platform.
“In view of the behaviour of the Trotskyites and Zinovievites, the 15th Party Conference (November 1926) and the Enlarged Plenum of the EC of the Communist International (December 1926) discussed the question of the bloc... and adopted resolutions stigmatising the adherents of this bloc as splitters whose platform was downright Menshevism.
“Instead of submitting to the will of the Party they decided to frustrate it… the ring leaders of the bloc of Trotskyites and Zinovievites had outlawed themselves from the Party...”
J. Stalin (History of the CPSU, 1938).
The Opposition [in Militant] has been banned. Opposition leaders expelled. Throughout the country a purge is taking place against Opposition comrades, with branch committees being called as kangaroo courts. Using the methods of McCarthy, comrades are being asked to choose: the Opposition or the Tendency. Opposition branches are being systematically closed down and “reorganised” by full-timers. This witch-hunt is the culmination of the neo-Stalinist campaign that has been waged against the Opposition since its formation. By these actions the majority faction has engineered a split – despite the protests of the Opposition – and, true to form, immediately publicised it in the pages of the capitalist press, before the ranks had any chance to comment.
Over the last six months, many comrades were extremely concerned, if not deeply alarmed, by the way the “debate” over the “turn” had been conducted. Following in the traditions of Lenin and Trotsky, our organisation had always correctly prided itself with its democratic methods in dealing with differences over political and organisational issues. Trotskyism was born out of a struggle with the counterrevolutionary policies and methods of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Correct policies and a healthy internal regime were equally essential in the construction of a revolutionary tendency. We condemned the sects who, unable to answer the arguments of opponents, always attempted to distort and twist arguments in order to ridicule them, and eventually expel them. These false undemocratic methods – the product of an unhealthy regime – always produced convulsions and splits at every stage in their development.
Unfortunately, the recent debate marked a fundamental departure from our past methods. Far from being an open and genuine exchange of ideas and opinions, which could serve to raise the level of the organisation, the Majority faction used its position and resources to wage a relentless attack – using dirty methods – against the Opposition. A key weapon in this assault was the full-time apparatus whose loyalty was abused to ensure the leadership’s “line” was carried through to a victory.
This dispute over the attitude towards the mass organisations has laid bare other differences over perspectives, both in Britain and internationally. It has also highlighted a dispute over organisational methods and approach as well as the character of the regime in the organisation. These differences have not fallen from the sky, but have arisen from both subjective and objective reasons.
What we have witnessed is a degeneration of the organisation.
How did it happen?
The move towards “activism” and the relegation of theory in the tendency is again not accidental, but flows from the broader degeneration that has taken place within the leadership.
Many comrades have asked themselves the question: how could our organisation, with its high political level and democratic traditions, have gone down this road?
The question is not a simple one, and does not admit of a simple answer. It would be wrong to look for a single cause, although undoubtedly some factors weigh more heavily than others in determining the fate of a revolutionary organisation.
Many of us were for a long time unable to detect the real nature and scope of the problem, because we consciously or unconsciously refused to admit the hypothesis of a political and organisational degeneration in the tendency that we had worked for decades to build. We attributed the problems and faults we observed to the individual mistakes of this or that comrade, which would be rectified in the course of experience. The blindness towards the processes which were taking place in the apparatus, the refusal to admit the existence of serious problems was itself one of the most harmful elements in the situation. Relatively minor mistakes and deviations can be easily resolved, if checked in time. But an uncorrected mistake can become a tendency, which can, in time, undermine the whole organisation. This is exactly what has happened here, and none of us can avoid our personal responsibility for it.
It is a peculiar paradox that, right up to the present moment, a great part of the comrades who support the majority still honestly believe that this tendency is basically democratic.
This is partly due to the fact that the full-time apparatus has succeeded in concealing from the comrades what is going on. The activities of the centre, the EC, the CC, etc. are a book sealed with seven seals for the great majority. Contrary to the traditions of Bolshevism, the activities of the leadership are shrouded in secrecy. It has become an obsession. And what goes on in the International is even more of a mystery to the average comrade. Given the complete lack of information, and the colossal trust in the leadership built up over decades, many comrades are inclined to take the word of the majority leadership against the Opposition, particularly when the internal controversy is presented as a “struggle to defend the organisation”. The whole thing is presented as a gigantic loyalty test. And the loyalty of the comrades has been systematically abused.
Where does this loyalty come from? From the colossal political and moral authority of the leadership. And this, in turn, was fundamentally the political and moral authority of comrade Ted Grant, who established the tendency on the basis of unshakable theoretical foundations.
For many years, the correctness of our ideas was demonstrated in practice, and this established an enormous confidence in the leadership. In a genuine Bolshevik organisation, the only authority a leadership can have is a moral and a political authority. You cannot demand authority on the basis of positions and titles: “full-timer”, “leading comrade”, “CC member”, “EC member” or even “General Secretary”. All this means less than nothing unless it is built on the correctness of your ideas and your ability to convince and inspire with political arguments.
The immense authority of the leadership created an enormous degree of trust, as we have said. Trust is, of course, a very fine thing. But you cannot build a Marxist working-class organisation on trust alone. In reality, the leadership of this tendency enjoyed more than trust. It had virtually a blank cheque (even in the most literal sense of the word) to do what it liked, without any real check or control. No leadership, no matter how honest or politically correct, should have that amount of “trust”.
To this day, the present leadership, which has, by its actions, abandoned all claim to political and moral authority, appeals to the membership to trust it. “Trust the EC, comrades! Trust the CC! Trust the full-timers!” Not by accident, the first reaction of the leadership to the crisis was to call numerous meetings which were required to pass votes of confidence in the national and international leadership. Never mind about the issues, never mind about the facts, just trust us, and everything will be fine. But everything is not fine, and thinking men and women will not be satisfied for long with attempts to play on their feelings of loyalty, in order to divert attention from the real problems we face.
As a result of a long period in which, in general, the ideas of the leadership were shown to be correct, we built a politically homogeneous tendency.
Up to the recent period there did not appear to be any serious political disagreements. In fact, there have been disagreements on all kinds of political and organisational matters, but these were never allowed to reach even the level of the CC or IEC. Nothing was permitted to indicate the slightest disagreement in the leadership. Peter Taaffe was particularly insistent on this. And since, in general, the disagreements did not appear to be of a decisive character (in retrospect they were extremely significant), it did not seem necessary to make much of them.
Unity is, of course, a valuable asset to a revolutionary organisation, provided it is a genuine unity, based on the coincidence of ideas. But in this tendency, there was something more than just unity. There was uniformity, which at times came dangerously close to conformism.
In a Bolshevik organisation, the main ideas come from the top – that is the justification for the existence of a leadership. But the ideas must be thoroughly discussed, criticised, amended, or rejected by the entire membership. Room must be given for the participation and creative initiative of the rank-and-file. Criticism and dissent must not be stifled. But that is precisely what has happened here.
We paid a very high price – far too high – for this “unanimity”. The tendency became unused to genuine discussion and debate. To be frank, many comrades (including “leading comrades”) simply stopped thinking. It was sufficient just to accept the line of the leadership. This, in itself, was a recipe for political degeneration in the long run.
In the past, we had a very open internal regime, where comrades could freely express any point of view, criticise, demand, and expect to get answers to their questions. Over a number of years that has been undermined and now largely destroyed.
The present debate has revealed that any serious criticism or difference is regarded as high treason. This is presented as an “attack on the organisation”. Those who put forward such views are, therefore, to be treated as traitors. That applies to comrade Ted Grant, the founder of the tendency, just as much as to any rank-and-file member who dares to question the behaviour of the full-timer in his local branch.
The same is true in the International, where any attempt to even to ask for detailed information about the real state of affairs in Britain, is denounced as an “attack on the British section”.
How can we have a genuine discussion, when matters are presented in this way?
The history of the Bolshevik Party was completely different to this. Throughout its entire history, the Bolshevik Party had an intense internal life, with internal debates, controversies, differences among the leaders, openly expressed, yes, and factions also.
When we formed a faction to combat the disastrous “British Turn”, we were immediately accused of disloyalty. In a circular the EC attempted to prejudice comrades attitudes by feeding the “suggestion” that members were “shocked” at this action. In doing this, the majority merely demonstrate their abysmal ignorance of the real traditions of Bolshevism and democratic centralism. Trotsky had this to say on the subject of factions:
“In the Comintern, factions were forbidden, and this police ban was alleged to be in keeping with the Bolshevik tradition. It is difficult to imagine a worse slander on the history of Bolshevism. It is true that in March 1921 factions were banned by a special resolution on the Tenth Party Congress. The very fact that this resolution was necessary shows that in the previous period – i.e., during the seventeen years when Bolshevism arose, grew, gained strength, and came to power – factions were a legitimate part of party life. And this was reflected in practice.
“At the Stockholm Party Congress (1906), where the Bolshevik faction was reunited with the Menshevik faction, there were two factions inside the Bolshevik faction involved in an open struggle at the congress itself over a major question, the agrarian programme. The majority of the Bolsheviks, under Lenin’s leadership, had come out for nationalisation of the land. Stalin, who spoke at the congress under the name Ivanovich, belonged to a small group of so-called “partitionists” that advocated the immediate partitioning of the land among the small property-owners, thus restricting the revolution beforehand to a capitalist-farmer perspective.
“In 1907, a sharp factional struggle was fought over the question of boycotting the Third State Duma (parliament). The supporters of the boycott subsequently aligned themselves into two factions which over the next few years carried on a fierce struggle against Lenin’s faction, not only within the confines of the ‘united' party, but inside the Bolshevik faction as well. Bolshevism’s intensified struggle against liquidationism later on gave rise to a conciliationist faction inside the Bolshevik faction, to which prominent Bolshevik practical party workers of that time belonged: Rykov, Dubrovinsky, Stalin, and others. The struggle against the conciliationists dragged on until the outbreak of the war.
“August 1914 opened a period of regroupment inside the Bolshevik faction on the basis of attitudes toward the war and the Second International. Simultaneously a factional group was being formed of people who opposed national self-determination (Bukharin, Pyatakov, and others).
“The sharp factional struggle inside the Bolshevik faction in the first period after the February Revolution and on the eve of the October Revolution is now well enough known (see for example, L. Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution). After the conquest of power a sharp factional struggle broke out around the question of the Brest-Litovsk peace. A faction of Left Communists was formed with its own press (Bukharin, Yaroslavsky, and others). Subsequently, the Democratic Centralism and the Workers’ Opposition factions were formed. Not until the Tenth Party Congress, held under conditions of blockade and famine, growing peasant unrest, and the first stages of NEP – which had unleashed petty-bourgeois tendencies – was consideration given to the possibility of resorting to such an exceptional measure as the banning of factions. It is possible to regard the decision of the Tenth Congress as a grave necessity. But in light of later events, one thing is absolutely clear: the banning of factions brought the heroic history of Bolshevism to an end and made way for its bureaucratic degeneration.” (L. Trotsky, Writings 1935-6)
A prior condition for internal democracy is the free flow of information. Without information, it is impossible for the membership to express an opinion, much less to determine policy. In this respect also, our tendency has been completely unlike the Bolshevik Party or the Communist International in its healthy period.
For the first five years of its existence, the Comintern held annual Congresses, despite the extreme difficulties involved. Every section discussed the problems of every other section. There were debates and controversies. The Russian party, despite its overwhelming strength and authority, did not attempt to use this to impose its views upon other sections. The Germans, Dutch, Hungarian and other parties pursued policies which were completely at variance with the standpoint of Lenin and Trotsky (usually with very negative consequences), but never experienced disciplinary measures or bureaucratic pressure. The only weapon used by Lenin and Trotsky was the weapon of convincing people by the superiority of their arguments. The tactic of character assassination, bureaucratic manoeuvres and the pressure of the apparatus was not the method of Leninist democratic centralism, but of Zinovievism and Stalinism.
Compare the situation with us. There is virtually complete ignorance about the work of comrades in other countries. This is true not only of the rank-and-file, but even at IEC level. This body only rarely meets. The Comintern held annual congresses. The IEC itself only meets about once a year. The “reports” given to it are, in reality, a list of our successes (very real and important, to be sure), for the purpose of boosting morale.
But very rarely do we get information about the problems faced by the comrades in difficult situations. This is not meant to be discussed outside the centre. Thus, an entirely false and one-sided picture is given even to the leading international comrades.
But the area about which there is complete ignorance is the workings of the centre itself. Even the leading international comrades know nothing about it. In the course of the recent debate, a representative of the IS minority went to one of the main European sections that supports the majority and asked the EC a simple question: “What do you know about my work, or the work of any other IS comrade?” The answer was a most eloquent silence. That speaks volumes about our internal regime.
The same is true in relation to the British EC. At the beginning of the dispute the Welsh CC comrades admitted that “they hadn’t a clue about the workings of the EC”. That goes for the rest of the CC, who never received any reports of its work, etc. Again the real state of the organisation is kept secret. Comrades in one area have no idea what the situation is in other areas – all they hear about is the successes.
In the past, the lack of any written information was justified in terms of security. It should be made clear that this refers almost exclusively to security, not in relation to the state, but in relation to the Labour bureaucracy.
It is quite ironical that the other faction now tries to justify the regime at the centre on the grounds of “security” when they have blown security sky-high by declaring an open organisation and publishing detailed information about the tendency in the pages of the bourgeois press.
The fact is that the argument about “security” has been used to violate internal democracy and keep vital information from being distributed. It is not a weapon against the labour bureaucracy, but against the rank and file.
Let us pose the question concretely: We have a situation where the leadership enjoys such trust that it amounts to a blank cheque; where there is uniformity of ideas, in which all dissent is automatically presented as disloyalty; where the leadership is allowed to function with virtually no checks or accountability, under conditions of complete secrecy from the rank-and-file. In such a situation, it is not surprising that a clique should exist. It would be astonishing if a clique did not exist.
Some comrades have posed the question as to whether the manifest reality of a political and organisational degeneration in our midst is not some kind of inherent consequence of democratic centralism.
In the first place, anyone with the slightest knowledge of the history of Bolshevism will see at a glance that this regime bears not the slightest resemblance to the internal regime of the party of Lenin and Trotsky. What we are confronted with here is not democratic centralism but bureaucratic centralism.
In the second place, it would be naive in the extreme to imagine that the fundamental cause of the degeneration of any workers’ organisation lies in its rules, statutes and constitution.
Statutes, of course, have their importance. But from a Marxist point of view, they cannot explain, still less determine, the fundamental evolution of a party, which is linked to all kinds of phenomena, both objective and subjective: the quality of its leadership, the development of its cadres, its links with the working class (or lack of them), the concrete stage through which the class itself is passing, the pressure of alien class forces on the party and its leadership. All these factors are a million times more decisive than any constitution, and can make or break any organisation, no matter how perfect its statutes. This is, after all, the lesson of that happened to the Bolshevik Party, the most democratic party in the history of the world working class, which degenerated under unfavourable historical conditions.
Today, at a time when Stalinism has been overthrown, not by the working class, but by capitalist counterrevolution in Russia, the strategists of capital are striving to blacken the name of Marxism in the eyes of the working class. There is a constant barrage of propaganda which attempts to slander the spotless heritage of Bolshevism, trying to show that “Leninism and Stalinism are the same”. Part of this campaign is to identify Stalinist authoritarianism with the “original sin” of Democratic Centralism. This is false from beginning to end.
To begin with, the Bolshevik Party was neither the first, nor the last, example of a workers’ party which suffered a bureaucratic degeneration. All the parties of the Second International experienced a complete bureaucratic-reformist degeneration, despite the fact that not one of them was organised on the lines of democratic centralism, and most had a very “democratic”, loose and “federal” structure. Only the Bolsheviks organised on Leninist lines succeeded in resisting the pressures of capitalism, maintaining the banner of revolutionary Marxism and leading the workers to power in 1917.
Not only the reformist, but also the anarcho-syndicalists, who enjoyed mass support in a number of countries up to the First World War, experienced a bureaucratic-reformist degeneration, and betrayed the working class. In France, the anarcho-syndicalists leaders dropped their demagogic slogan of a “general strike against war” and joined the war-time coalition – the “Union Sacree” – with the bourgeois at the first sound of the trumpet. Two decades later the leaders of the Spanish CNT betrayed the Spanish Revolution. Having refused “on principle” to organise a workers’ government in Catalonia in 1936, they did not hesitate to join the bourgeois Popular Front, even accepting ministerial portfolios. Yet, in their day, they vociferously protested against “democratic centralism”, and had the most “democratic” of constitutions, in which de-centralisation and federalism formed the main pillars.
In fact, no constitution in the world can guarantee against the danger of bureaucratic degeneration. Let us recall that Stalin’s Constitution of 1936 was hailed as “the most democratic Constitution in the world”. And so it was – on paper.
The American IWW – a semi-anarchist organisation which enjoyed big influence among certain sections of the workers before 1914 – had no full-timers, but only “part-timers”. That did not prevent a bureaucracy from forming in the leadership of the IWW.
In reality, you can have a bureaucracy in any organisation, even outside politics. You can have a ‘bureaucracy” in a knitting circle or a football club – and frequently very poisonous bureaucracies they are. We are not, of course, referring to a fully-fledged bureaucracy like that of the Labour Party or the Soviet Union, but cliques of people who are greedy for prestige and positions, who indulge in all kinds of back-stabbing, gossip and intrigue to gain their ends. This is a. common enough phenomenon not to require further elaboration.
Such a bureaucracy does not require a material base. The argument (which has been used by the “Majority”) that a bureaucracy must have a material base, in privileges, huge salaries and the rest, is entirely false and mechanical. We have heard the same argument from every piddling sect since Trotsky was alive: “Look, we have no privileges, no big cars. How can we be a bureaucracy?” Nevertheless, some of the worst examples of neo-Stalinist bureaucratic cliques are to be found precisely in ex-Trotskyist sects, like the Healyites.
The bureaucracies of the Labour Party and the trade unions, as well as the Stalinist bureaucracies of the East, are a different phenomenon. They rest on privileges and have a direct material interest in maintaining them at all costs. Here we are dealing with something else. But to ignore the existence of cliques and bureaucratic tendencies which have crystallised at the top of our organisation, and which have gone from bad to worse, would be the height of irresponsibility and would lead to the wrecking of the tendency.
The only defence against bureaucratism does not consist in paper rules and regulations, but in the consciousness of the membership, the formation of cadres and the political and moral standing of the leadership.
There is no historical law which says that degeneration is inevitable. How did it come about that Lenin and Trotsky did not go the same way as Stalin and Zinoviev? Why did Rosa Luxembourg not end up like Kautsky? The role of the individual is tremendously important, and even decisive at certain moments in history, for good or for ill.
Any workers’ organisation will come under the pressures of capitalism. These pressures are multiplied a thousandfold in periods of capitalist upswing like the period of more than two decades that preceded the First World War and set the seal on the degeneration of the Second International, or the period from 1950 to 1974 which had similar effects on the leaders of both the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties and also led to the degeneration of the leaders of the so-called “Fourth International”.
Of course, we must maintain a sense of proportion. Even if Marx, Lenin and Trotsky would have been alive at that time, it would not have made a fundamental difference to the general processes, within society and the working class. But it would have probably enabled us to preserve the bulk of our forces intact and prepare for the big possibilities which opened up in the subsequent period, beginning with 1968 in France. This, in turn, would have meant a fundamental change in the situation. That is the importance of the subjective factor, of genuine Marxist leadership.
The importance of good generals in war is not only for periods of advance. In a situation where, for historical reasons, the Marxists are forced to retreat, the importance of leadership is even greater. With good generals you can retreat in good order, preserve the bulk of your forces, dig in, and prepare for a new advance when conditions permit. With bad generals (like those who only know one word of command: “Charge!”) you can turn a defeat into a rout.
Pressures of Capitalism
With the wisdom of hindsight (the cheapest of all types of wisdom), it is clear that we did not give sufficient weight to the effects of decades of capitalist upswing on the entire evolution of the present period.
The consciousness of the working class, both in the West and in the former Stalinist states, has been thrown back for a time, although this will be overcome by a series of convulsive leaps on the basis of experiences in the coming period. Neither in the East nor the West can capitalism offer a way out for the working class. But that fact is not evident to the mass of the workers, whose consciousness has been affected by the fact that capitalism has been able to develop the productive forces for a whole period. This fact has a great importance in working out our perspectives and tactics, yet it is a closed book as far as the leaders of the other faction are concerned.
Prior to the miners’ strike, we had experienced a period of steady growth. This was the result of correct ideas, policies, tactics, perspectives and methods. It was also the result of the fact that the workers in Britain and internationally, were beginning to draw revolutionary conclusions from their experience of the great class struggles of the 1970s: the Portuguese and Spanish revolutions, the fall of the Greek Junta, civil war in Cyprus, big movements of the class in France, Italy, Britain, and so on.
The first big economic recession since 1950, in the mid-1970s, caused a shock-wave throughout the world. The perspectives of the European bourgeois at this time was not a period of stability, prosperity and “democracy”, but civil war and military coups. The “P-2” conspiracy envisaged military dictatorship not only in Italy, but in Belgium, Spain, Norway, etc. In Britain, Brigadier Kitson was openly discussing the possibility of a coup. It emerged that sections of the British ruling class had toyed with the idea of a coup against Harold Wilson.
All these processes were cut across by the Reagan boom which began in 1982. The objective situation changed. Capitalism succeeded in re-establishing a certain, temporary, equilibrium, albeit with rates of growth far inferior to those of the past. This fact inevitably had an effect on the consciousness of all classes. It is the fundamental reason for the long period of Thatcherism in Britain and of Republican administrations in the USA. It is also the basic reason for the move to the right of all the social democratic leaders, not just in Britain, whether in or out of power, and the collapse of the Left Reformists.
In all periods such as this, the pressures of capitalism upon the working class and its organisations enormously increase. We see this, not only in the open capitulation of the Labour leaders, but in the collapse of the sects, and above all, the “Communist” parties. But it is clear that the same pressures have also had a profound effect on a section of the Marxist tendency, starting at the top.
Without wishing to admit it publicly, the faction which bases itself on the apparatus, has drawn pessimistic conclusions about the working class and its organisations. In words, they continue to repeat the old phrases about the labour movement inevitable transforming itself “in the future”. But in practice, they have abandoned any such idea, and are looking around for an alternative to base themselves upon. They believe they have found this in the so-called “unorganised layers”, i.e. the most downtrodden and exploited layers of the working class. This marks a decisive step away from the traditional orientation of our tendency, and the beginnings of a break with the methods of Marxism.
One of the characteristics of this faction is its total inability to admit a mistake. This is not an accident. It flows from a desire to preserve at all costs the prestige of the ruling group, by giving it an aura of “infallibility”. But a mistake, if not corrected in time, will turn into a tendency. This is exactly what has happened, with disastrous consequences.
In the recent period, we have seen a tendency to avoid putting forward a definite perspective on any subject, on the grounds that “perspectives must be conditional” and that “the present period is very complex”.
Of course, perspectives are conditional by their very nature. There are different variants. But at the end of the day, a Marxist leadership must decide which variant it considers to be most likely. This is for a very simple reason. A Marxist organisation is not a debating club. Perspectives are supposed to be a guide to action. To fail to indicate the most likely path of development in society and the working class is to disarm the comrades, who require direction for their work, if it is to be effective.
Imagine a patient who went to the doctor with stomach pains and was told:
“a) It may be colic, b) it may be an ulcer, or c) it may be stomach cancer. Good morning!” The problem is that, at the end of the day, a Marxist leadership must put forward a definite perspective, for the same reason that a doctor must work out a definite diagnosis: because from it flows a series of practical conclusions relating to tactics and orientation.
The leadership of the other faction no longer tries to put forward a scientific Marxist perspective, firstly because they are incapable of doing so, secondly, because they are motivated by considerations of personal prestige, which is closely connected to the idea of an “infallible leadership”.
The authority and prestige of the leadership in the past was based upon correct perspectives, ideas, tactics and methods. Now all that has gone. The present leadership pursues incorrect perspectives, tactics, methods and ideas. Yet it demands authority. That is precisely the political basis for Zinovievist methods.
Zinovievism, at basis, is the attempt to solve political problems by organisational means. It is characterised by the use of the apparatus in internal political disputes, and the attempt to slander and distort the arguments of opponents. All these methods have been employed against the Opposition by the present leadership in the most shameless fashion. But these methods – entirely alien to the democratic traditions of our tendency, did not drop from a clear blue sky, but are rooted in a fundamentally mistaken method of party-building which has been present, in embryo, for some time and which has got steadily worse over the last few years.
How the Clique Developed
The development of a clique in the top of the organisation was the product of a whole series of factors, both objective and subjective, political and individual. It did not happen overnight, but was a gradual process, the full significance of which was not immediately evident. There were symptoms of all kinds of negative manifestations, but the full extent of the degeneration only became clear when Ted Grant and Alan Woods finally challenged the clique. From that moment onwards, the process has become accelerated. What was implicit has become explicit. Quantity has become quality. The degeneration of the apparatus has reached such a point that it threatens the very existence of the tendency.
This is not to say that unhealthy tendencies did not exist before. The difference is that, having been publicly challenged and exposed by the opposition, the bureaucratic faction has become conscious of itself, its interests and its identity as a clique. It is now consciously struggling to establish a complete monopoly of the apparatus, excluding every critical element, by the most unscrupulous means. The conduct of this faction in the present struggle is a final proof for all those comrades who doubted the existence of the clique.
The clique itself was not the product of a conscious conspiracy. It did not originally work according to a plan. Up until recently, it consisted of a very small group of personal friends and close collaborators of Peter Taaffe, a man of considerable ability, especially in the field of organisation who played an important role in the development of the organisation, although the political ideas, and many of the organisational ideas also, were borrowed from Ted Grant.
Until quite recently, the CC was not under the complete control of the clique, nor was the full-time apparatus as a whole. Superficially, the organisation was run on democratic lines. But in practice, there was an increasing tendency for control of the apparatus to be concentrated in the hands of the general secretary, although this was not evident to many comrades.
When the tendency was much smaller, with a handful of full-timers, the question of democratic control and accountability did not seem to be of vital importance. With such small numbers, if anyone was guilty of abuses, it would be immediately known, and would be quickly rectified.
But quantity becomes quality. When you reach the stage of 8,000 members and 200 full-timers, the question of control and accountability becomes a matter of life and death for the organisation. In effect, the apparatus acquired a dynamic and a life of its own, without reference to the needs and aspirations of the “rank-and-file”.
The original cadres of the tendency had a certain political level. The building of the tendency was conceived of in political terms. Organisation was regarded as the necessary vehicle for carrying the ideas of Marxism to the working class, not as an end in itself.
However, over a period, with the rapid expansion of the full-time staff, the political level of the full-timers suffered a decline. Less attention was paid to their political capabilities. Increasingly one heard more stress being placed on the organisational, or even purely administrational, aspects, “Committee-itis” came into fashion. The conversation of the full-timers centred obsessively on the functioning of committees of all kinds: ECs, CCs, DCs, BCs and so on.
Paradoxically, this fetishism of organisational forms led to the undermining of the very organisations themselves. The branches became subordinate to the committees, the committees to the full-timers.
The idea that “the full-timer” solves everything is false to the core. The health and viability of a revolutionary organisation depends on the health and viability of the branches. The branches are the roots of the organisation. Without healthy roots, the plant must wither and die.
Of course, full-timers play an essential role in the tendency. Without a solid full-time apparatus, we would be reduced to a group of dilettantes – a debating club. But the role of the full-timers is to assure the best possible functioning of the branches, not to substitute themselves for them.
The full-timer must provide leadership. But leadership consists in the ability to patiently convince, encourage, motivate and inspire. It also involves the ability to listen to and learn from the membership as a whole. This, in turn, depends on the political development and personal qualities of the comrade concerned.
Unfortunately, in many cases, those comrades who went full-time were not always the best candidates, but those who were available, or prepared to accept the extremely low wages of a full-timer. This often meant unemployed comrades or students, with little or no experience of the life of the working class and the labour movement.
There is no doubt that the great majority of full-timers were, and are, dedicated and self-sacrificing comrades. With adequate political training, most could have made the grade as revolutionary leaders.
However, the theoretical development of the full-timers was systematically neglected. This fact is clearly understood by the majority of the full-timers themselves, who have repeatedly complained about it. This neglect was a conscious decision by a group within the leadership which, in effect, has a contempt for theory. Schools for full-timers were regularly cancelled, alleging lack of time, resources, or “other priorities”. Any excuse was used to downgrade and belittle the importance of the theoretical development of the organisation, starting with the full-timers. This was the start of the slippery slope to disaster.
That the political level of the tendency has suffered a decline is not open to serious doubts. Gradually, ideas and politics have been pushed to one side, and replaced by an unhealthy and one-sided insistence on “organisation” (badly understood) and “agitation”.
The idea that cadre-building must occupy a central place in the building of the party has been discarded. The latest idea is that “you educate yourself on the streets”. That is, instead of reading the basic works of Marxism, you should be out selling papers and collecting money. These activities are, of course, very necessary. But we have always criticised the sects in the past for turning their organisations into “paper-selling machines”. We understood the extreme damage caused by groups like the Healyites, who picked up raw youths off the streets, “educated” them with a couple of slogans, and sent them out with piles of papers. Without ideas, perspectives and theory, and without an anchor in the labour movement, these youths rapidly become burnt-out and dropped out of politics altogether. Now the leadership of the tendency has, in effect, gone over to these false methods, with lamentable consequences.
The inability to explain, convince and motivate by political argument leads directly to the sin of “commandism” and office-leadership. The full-timers tend to order and bully the comrades, instead of convincing them. They rely upon the loyalty of the membership, built upon the political authority of the leadership handed down from the past, in order to get their way. If you do not accept the targets handed down by the full-timer, you are “not a good comrade”, you are “conservative”, and so on.
By degrees, the rank-and-file has been displaced by the full-time apparatus. A whole new “theory” has been elaborated by the leading clique. This boils down to the following formula, which is mechanically repeated by the supporters of this faction, as a key to open all doors: a) “Form a team at the top” and b) “bring on the youth”.
It is laughable to hear these essentially empty slogans being repeated even by members of the international leadership, as the “secret” of how to build. Thus, all the complex tasks of building a national section are reduced to a couple of banal ideas, which would be child’s play for a six year old.
How are we to understand a “team at the top”? A Marxist collective leadership undoubtedly ought to involve a number of comrades with different political and organisational talents. But at all times the political elements must predominate. However, this formula has been understood in an entirely different way by this faction.
The “team” referred to is regarded as “people who can work together”. Or, more accurately, people who “fit in”. Fit in – with what? People who fit in with the concept of party building handed down by this faction. A conception of party-building which is essentially non-political, which consists in the mechanical repetition of the slogans currently in vogue with the leading group, unquestioningly accepts targets and “hands them down” to the membership, and so on. That is how this faction understands a “team”. And anyone who does not fit into the “team” is considered an “awkward customer”, a “conservative”, or whatever, and, by one means or another, removed.
Something similar occurs with “bringing on the youth”. It is an elementary proposition that we base ourselves on the youth. It is necessary to give the young comrades every help and encouragement to develop and take initiatives. It is necessary to train the best of the youth as cadres and potential leaders, to continually renovate the leadership.
But, here too, an idea which is correct in itself, has been twisted into its opposite. If it is wrong to stifle the youth and hold them back, it is also wrong to flatter the youth, to fill them full of demagogic ideas, to pander to their impatience, and to turn them against the older generation of revolutionaries.
From quite an early date, the present general secretary decided to select a series of young comrades, promote them to leading positions, via the student work (NOLS), the LPYS NC and the Labour Party NEC, and finally, bring them to the national centre, where they worked under his direction, in different organisational fields.
Unlike the previous generation, which had to struggle for their position as a tiny minority of the YS, these comrades entered at a time when we had already conquered a majority. They rapidly rose to key positions as “leading Youth comrades”, without necessarily having earned it.
These comrades were competent politically, but with very little depth, with a strong organisational bent, and a great deal of arrogance, which, far from being combated, was regarded as a positive feature. Above all, they “got on with the job” and “got results”, by which was frequently meant that they told the leadership what it wanted to hear. A lot of the present “drum-banging” and “chest-beating” which characterises the leadership comes directly from this source.
The formation of a clique, based around the figure of the general secretary, and largely recruited from this layer of ex-youth comrades, was not, at first, a conscious process. A process of selection began of those elements who completely shared Peter Taaffe’s conception of party-building, and threw themselves into it, in the process exaggerating these false methods to the “Nth degree”.
For a long time, comrade Ted Grant acted as a brake on the political mistakes and organisational excesses of this group on the EC. For a long time also, they did not feel sufficiently confident to challenge Ted Grant’s authority. Usually, if it came to a clash, they would retreat. Peter Taaffe, in particular, dreaded the prospect of an open clash with Ted Grant and did all in his power to prevent these differences from surfacing outside the EC. That is the main reason why the differences which did exist never went to the CC and were completely unknown to the membership, which assumed that the leadership was completely united.
Being unwilling to clash openly with the founder of the tendency, they resorted to underhand methods. Ted Grant was gradually pushed out of direct contact with the organisational side of the work. The story was assiduously put around that Ted Grant was “too old”, “impossible to work with”, “an obstacle”, and so on. Peter Taaffe stated on numerous occasions that it is “impossible to have an honest discussion with Ted Grant present”. Starting in the EC, these slanders were gradually repeated in private conversations to CC members.
This situation led to meetings of comrades taking decisions outside the EC, always with the excuse that “we can’t discuss if Ted Grant is present”. It would be wrong to think that this was a conscious conspiracy. This group merely found its irksome that their preconceived ideas of how the tendency should be run should be challenged continuously by EG. Evidently, he did not fit into the “team”.
At first, this was an unconscious process. The group around Peter Taaffe met together to bemoan the activities of Ted Grant, then to circumvent him, then to isolate him, and push him into the sidelines, while still taking advantage of his theoretical insights. In order to “get on”, one had to declare one’s loyalty to the General Secretary, and come out clearly against Ted Grant. Those who failed to do so were regarded with suspicion, marginalised, demoted and pushed out, in one way or another.
Of course, it would be wrong to attribute the degeneration of the leadership purely to a question of individuals. Thus the majority faction has attempted, from the beginning of the present crisis, to present it as a “personality clash”, involving “personal attacks” on the General Secretary, and so on. In reality, the accusation of a clique and Zinovievist methods are not at all of a personal character. They are political accusations, unlike the type of abuse directed against the leading representatives of the Opposition (“senile”, “mad”, etc).
Nevertheless, the role of the individual can be decisive, for good or ill. Without Lenin and Trotsky, the October Revolution would never have taken place. And while it would be entirely wrong to say that Stalin was personally responsible for the bureaucratic degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, nevertheless, as Trotsky explains in his masterpiece Stalin, that individual undoubtedly set his personal stamp on the way in which the degeneration proceeded. The same was true of the personal role played by Gerry Healy in the degeneration of what used to be the Revolutionary Communist Party. Marxism does not at all deny the role of the individual in history, but explains concretely how certain processes, which ultimately have an objective social base, can express themselves in different ways through different individuals.
The positive aspect of the work of comrade Peter Taaffe in the building of the tendency, especially in the organisational field, cannot be denied. But the one-sided nature of this contribution, with its heavy stress on the organisational, as opposed to the political, the importance of the apparatus, as opposed to the branches, and the heavy stress on “action” and constant campaigning as a panacea, as opposed to cadre-building and patient work in the labour and trade union movement, had a potentially negative side, which only now has become completely dear.
So long as these tendencies were kept in check by the intervention of comrade Ted Grant on the EC, they did not appear to be particularly harmful. Important advances were chalked up, which also meant that many comrades – including those in leading positions – felt reluctant to criticise those defects and abuses which were already beginning to make their appearance.
Gradually, however, the leading group around the General Secretary, succeeded in pushing Ted Grant to one side and establishing a firm grip on the organisation. An important role was played in this by the Organisation Bureau, which was completely under the control of the General Secretary, although the “public face” of this committee was comrade Rob Sewell, who was responsible for carrying out its policies.
One of the peculiarities of the General Secretary is that he acts with extreme caution, and makes it a rule never to appear as the person responsible for unpopular actions. These are always entrusted to other people, who get all the odium for policies and decisions which invariably emanate from Peter Taaffe’s office.
Of course, nobody can refuse to accept their personal responsibility for carrying out unacceptable policies and using bad methods. All this must be openly discussed, criticised and rectified.
But anyone with the slightest knowledge or experience of the workings of the leadership over the past eight years or more knows perfectly well that no decisions of any significance are taken without the full knowledge and consent of the General Secretary, and that the great majority of them are taken, either on his initiative, or at least with his active participation.
Would the leadership have degenerated without the role of this individual? That is not an easy question to answer. In any event, we would find ourselves in the realm of pure hypothesis. But one thing is abundantly clear: the lack of vigilance, the complete trust which was deposited in comrade Peter Taaffe, enabling him to concentrate an enormous amount of power in his hands, played an absolutely fatal role.
Many comrades have pointed to the establishment of a full-time Central Committee as a decisive step on the road to degeneration. Certainly, the elimination of a series of experienced trade union comrades was a factor which removed an important check on the full-time apparatus. After this, the mood on the CC has become increasingly divorced from the reality of the working class and its organisations. At present, there is an air of complete unreality in all the discussions which take place on that body. The CC is now living in a world of dreams.
At the time, comrades Ted Grant and others supported the idea of a full-time CC as a step towards a more professional, Bolshevik organisation. It must be said that the idea of a full-time CC is not, in itself, either incorrect or necessarily a formula for bureaucracy. But none of the checks and balances which were originally proposed were ever allowed to function. In particular, the calling of regular industrial bureaus, bringing together the experience of our trade union activists, never took place. In effect, the trade union comrades found themselves squeezed out of the decision-making process of the tendency. This was to have fatal consequences when a more difficult period developed.
The period of 1981-83 saw a rapid expansion of the full-time apparatus. This was necessary and correct, in view of the increase of the membership and the number of branches. However, as we have seen, the quality and political level of the full-timers was not always what was required. Nor was any attempt made to guarantee the control of the membership over the full-timers, who were under the constant pressure of the Centre to get quick results.
The rapid growth of the organisation created the illusion of permanent successes. ‘The sky was the limit”. Despite the beginning of the “Reagan boom”, and the victory of Thatcher, there was still a potential for growth. This idea, also, was not necessarily incorrect, on condition that we had a sufficient number of cadres to explain our ideas to our periphery which numbered thousands at that time.
However, the idea of growth was understood by this faction in an entirely simplistic and organisational sense. The most crass expression of this tendency was the “Organisational Resolution” drafted by John Throne for the International in 1984. This argued that the question of growth was entirely down to the subjective factor, and that there was no reason we should not double, treble, quadruple the tendency in all countries, and so on and so forth. This resolution, which was criticised by Ted Grant and Alan Woods, did a considerable amount of damage in a number of sections which took it seriously (some, fortunately, did not). It led to an unhealthy competition, a scramble for growth, to see who had more figures on the blackboard at the next meeting. Very soon, figures were being systematically falsified by national leaderships who were afraid to be “shown up” for not following the wretched advice from the Centre. In this way, dishonesty, double-book-keeping and the defence of prestige was introduced into the International straight from the “experts” in London.
John Throne was later removed from his position as international secretary and “exiled” to the USA as a result of his manoeuvres and impermissible conduct, especially in Ireland. But to this day, all information concerning this scandalous affair has been suppressed and kept from the membership, including the IEC It is a fact that from 1985 to the Summer of 1991, John Throne was not permitted any contact with the Irish section, either in person, by writing or by telephone. He was not even allowed to attend the Irish Commission at the IEC. These facts can serve to illustrate the serious nature of his violation of the norms of revolutionary conduct. This is all well known to the IS, yet today John Throne is one of the main spokespersons of the IS majority faction internationally. This despite the fact that the campaign to remove him In 1985 was orchestrated and led by Peter Taaffe and Peter Hadden (N Ireland).
The Miners’ Strike
The British miners’ strike was a major turning-point, not only for the working class, but for the British organisation. Given the importance of the dispute, the decision of the leadership to make a major turn towards it was obviously correct. However, the way in which this was done had calamitous consequences for the organisation.
On the political plane, the miners’ strike, which at times approached a level of struggle and consciousness unparalleled in recent history, had the effect of temporarily disguising the effects of the boom in British society.
By this time, the leading group was already suffering from certain delusions of grandeur. We had made a major breakthrough in Liverpool thanks to decades of patient work in the traditional mass organisations of the working class. It was correct to say that we were already an element in the political life of Britain. But the leading group has taken this correct idea and exaggerated It to the point where truth has been changed into its opposite.
One of the principal sources of error of the clique is its complete lack of a sense of proportion: a gross over-estimation of the real strength and influence of the tendency inside the working-class movement. This has led to fatal consequences, culminating in the “Turn”.
During the miners’ strike, we already saw a tendency to substitute ourselves for the real movement of the class. It was correct to put forces into the coalfields. But in many areas, our own comrades ended up running miners’ support groups and the like, instead of involving other people in the work.
One of the most negative features of this was that the branches were ignored, and begun to fall into disrepair. “Activism” was put forward as the be-all-and-end all.
The branches are the fundamental unit of the organisation. In a healthy tendency, the branches should be lively places, where the comrades can participate in discussions, learn, make decisions, and organise and plan the intervention in the labour movement. But in most areas, this is far from the case.
For some time now, trade union work has not been discussed in the branches. All sorts of excuses were given, but, in reality, the trade unionists have been pushed out. Political education hardly takes place in the branches, which concentrate on discussing the latest “campaign”. Moreover these “campaigns” are increasingly based on marginal issues. Also campaigns are increasingly raised in a manner divorced from the labour movement.
In the past the Women’s Charter campaign and the campaign against sexual harassment at work were clearly focussed towards the trade unions and workplaces. In contrast, the recent Sarah Thornton campaign has been raised mainly as an individual issue and largely in a non-class manner.
In this way, the tendency is being pushed further and further away from the realities and aspirations of ordinary working-class people and the labour movement. We are being driven down a path which has already been well-trodden by all the sects and trendy lefties in the past.
Before this happened, there was a layer of cadres in the branches and DCs who were capable of building independently, and exercising some check on the full-timers. Now many of these comrades have dropped away, burnt out by the mindless “activism” dictated from the top. More and more, everything depends on the full timers. This is a false and unhealthy method and will eventually undermine the entire organisation.
Instead of political education in the branches we now get 15 minute lead-offs on things like “What We Stand For”. A worker’s time is too valuable to be wasted in going to meetings to be told what he or she already knows. Hence the increasing lack of interest and participation in the branches.
Over a period we have lost a whole layer of experienced comrades who have been replaced by inexperienced youth, who are given no serious training in the ideas and methods of Marxism. A kind of “Lenin levy” has taken place, which has had the effect of lowering the general political level land swamping the older generation of cadres.
The heavy emphasis on “bringing on the youth” is not an accident. Trotsky explained many times that the older generation represents the political capital of a revolutionary party. Anyone who seeks to change the nature of such a party must first destroy its political capital and make it forget its own past. This is a task which the ruling faction has been engaged upon for years – with the results we now see before us.
It is necessary to win and “advance” the youth, but it is criminal to deliberately turn the youth against the older generation, to give them a swollen head and to use them as a battering ram against the cadres. Yet this has been the conscious tactic pursued by the clique around the General Secretary, not only in Britain but internationally. The aim, furthermore, is not at all to “advance” the youth, but to advance the apparatus, by removing all those who stand in its way.
As we have seen, many of the present members of the clique are former “youth leaders” who have been selected and groomed by the General Secretary as his chosen supporters.
The miseducation of these comrades began very early on. Already at the annual conferences of the Youth Organisation in the late seventies, when we had overwhelming control, certain unhealthy tendencies were visible.
The “opposition” in the YS was quite small – a mere handful of sectarians and left and right reformists. They posed no threat, either politically or organisationally. Yet, instead of answering them politically, which would have served to raise the political level of the youth – our principal objective – on many occasions the “leading youth comrades” resorted to insults and “hammering” sessions. Instead of convincing by argument they based themselves on slogan-mongering, clichés and rhetoric. And this method, completely alien to those of the past, came to be regarded as normal, and even “clever”.
In the early days, we fought for ideas. Our conception of fighting for control, was the fight for political control. However, the leaders of the bureaucratic faction have a different idea altogether. They are obsessed with control in an entirely bureaucratic sense: of getting and holding onto office. They must be in the majority. They cannot stand the idea of being in a minority. Hence their obsessive reference to the Opposition as “The Minority”. As if that were a conclusive proof that the ideas of the minority must be wrong.
This apparatus mentality has done colossal damage to our work in the labour and trade union movement. The launching of the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC) organisation was a tremendous event, pregnant with all kinds of possibilities for extending the ideas and influence of the Marxists among millions of trade unionists. Yet the BLOC organisation failed to develop. Why?
The first task of the Marxists is to work out correct ideas, policies, programme and perspectives. The second task, even more complicated and difficult than the first, is to find the way to link up the scientific programme of Marxism with the necessarily unfinished, confused and contradictory movement of the masses. If we fail to establish this link, we become a sect, neither more nor less.
The leadership of the bureaucratic faction has never understood this. Their sole concern is that we should “control” the movement, at whatever cost. They are like those Bolshevik committee-men who in 1905 turned up to the first meeting of the Petersburg Soviet, read out a declaration of the Party’s principles, and, when the astonished delegates refused to accept the Bolshevik programme en bloc, walked out.
The golden chance for the BLOC organisation to take off was during the miners’ strike. But it played next to no role in the strike, because it was not allowed to. Control had to be kept firmly in the hands of the tendency. The full timers were terrified that we might lose control, so it was never really permitted to function as a living entity. The result is well-known.
This fear of differences is deeply-rooted in the psychology of this faction. It is not an expression of confidence, but quite the opposite. It reflects an inability to convince by argument, whether in the YS, the unions, the LP, or our own organisation. It leads directly to bureaucratic methods, the attempt to solve political differences by organisational means, and, ultimately the swamp of Zinovievism, which the internal regime has now sunk into.
The apparatus faction lacks all confidence in the rank-and-file. Congresses are called with increasing infrequency. Even at these congresses, the views of the rank-and-file are not really welcome. “Awkward” resolutions are usually withdrawn under pressure from the EC. Those who insist on holding out can expect a public verbal “hammering”. The slate system of elections – which is not the only method of electing a leadership in a Bolshevik organisation – has undoubtedly been abused to make it difficult for leaders to be removed.
All these things did not remove the discontent of the rank-and-file, but merely drove it further underground. Many comrades were unhappy with the way things were going, but felt themselves to be isolated. How could they take on such a powerful and (apparently) united apparatus? Many gradually dropped out, others were deliberately pushed out, others fell into passivity, merely ticking over in the branches.
Those who attempted to give voice to their discontent found themselves confronted by a powerful apparatus which quickly moved to isolate them, branding them as “conservatives”, “whiners” and the like.
Under the given conditions, there was no chance for the rank-and-file to express its opposition. This fact gave the leading group a sense of almost complete invulnerability. They believed they had neutralised EG and those who were uneasy with the organisational methods and who felt the need for a more political approach to the work. They were capturing one position after another, without a shot being fired.
However, their self-assuredness led them to make mistakes. Having got control of the British section, the next objective was the International. Tony Saunois and Lawrence Coates were sent in to undermine the position of Alan Woods, in the same way that Ted Grant had been undermined in the British leadership.
By this time – 1987/88 – there can be no doubt that this faction was working in a planned and coordinated manner. They got control of a number of sections, where they invariably succeeded in making a mess. For all their boasting and bragging about their alleged superior organisational capacities, they have never succeeded in building a section anywhere in the world, but only in disorganising the work and destroying good comrades.
By late 1990 they were planning a “coup d'etat” in the International, under the slogan of a “smaller IEC” (They had earlier tried the same thing in relation to the British CC, but failed). This plan involved the elimination of virtually all the old leaders (including Roger Silverman) and their replacement by people who were unconditional supporters of the clique. The Spanish section, for example, was to be reduced from four representatives to one – the same number as Australia! On the other hand, prominent members of the clique in Britain, Lynn Walsh, Clare Doyle and Lawrence Coates were to be brought onto the IEC as full members and even the IS. Thus the same type of regime would dominate the International as in Britain.
But the organisers of this plan tried to move too hastily. They came into collision with Alan Woods, who for some time had been receiving complaints from sections where the clique was pursuing its methods, with disastrous results. A secondary incident sparked off a row within the IS which served as the catalyst which brought the whole thing to a head.
It is clear that a split at the top was the necessary precondition for the emergence of a serious Opposition tendency. The fact that two recognised leaders of the tendency, including its founder, comrade Ted Grant decided to confront the clique in the international centre transformed the situation.
But neither of these comrades were prepared for the vicious reaction of the apparatus, when it felt itself challenged. Like many others, they had not realised just how far the process of degeneration had gone.
Since the start of the crisis, all the processes have speeded up. There has been, on the one hand, a consolidation and hardening of the bureaucratic faction. Those for whom the power of the apparatus was more important than ideas have quickly gravitated to the ruling faction. This includes all but a small part of the full time staff.
There is a layer of comrades who have been so miseducated by the regime that they are prepared to follow anything which comes down “from the top” without question, no matter how monstrous. This is what is mistakenly considered to be “party loyalty”. In reality, it is disloyalty to the elementary principles upon which a genuinely Leninist party is built.
The apparatus leans to a great extent on a layer of young comrades who have not been seriously educated in Marxist ideas and have no knowledge of the past traditions of the movement. Many of these will, unfortunately, be burnt out and drop out of politics in the next period, particularly when they see that the “New Turn” does not fulfil the promises of the leadership.
But the great majority of those who support the leadership do so because they do not believe that the tendency could degenerate to such an extent. They have persuaded themselves that the problems and faults they see are secondary issues, the product of individual mistakes. They are desperately concerned to maintain unity and avoid a damaging split.
This instinct for unity is undoubtedly a natural and healthy one. But what is clear – and clearer by the day – is that the bureaucratic faction which treats the apparatus as its private property and attempts to deal with Opposition, not by convincing people but by crushing them and driving them out – this is the greatest threat, not only to the unity of the tendency, but to its very existence.
Around the banner of the Internationalist Opposition the basic forces of Trotskyism are beginning to regroup. Workers, trade unionists, unwaged, students, full-timers who have rebelled against the ruling faction and were not afraid to be sacked and victimised – that is the stuff a genuinely revolutionary tendency is made of.
A large part of the cadres, including the historical leaders nationally and internationally, support the Opposition, which has restored theory and political education to the central position from which they were excluded.
There is no doubt that, on the basis of their own experience of the bureaucratic regime, with its sectarian, adventuristic policies, many honest comrades will begin to draw their conclusions and will come over to the Opposition.
Realising this, the bureaucratic faction has resorted to a policy of mass expulsion of oppositionists. While spreading the lie that the Opposition has “split”, they themselves are carrying out the most monstrous split by expelling our comrades, starting with comrade Ted Grant, the founder and theoretical leader of our movement. That will not save them. In the struggle of ideas against the apparatus, it is ideas which inevitably win, in the long run. We remain as confident of our ideas as when we started building this tendency, decades ago. What we did then we can do again. And in the interest of the world working class, we are duty-bound to do so.